Undead and undermined, p.9
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       Undead and Undermined, p.9
 

         Part #10 of Undead series by MaryJanice Davidson
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  Jessica looked down at it (as if she could look anywhere else), then back up at me. Bewilderment was written across her face; anyone (even me) could have seen how startled she was. "What? Why?"

  "Why?" I cried. "Are you serious? Why would I be jealous? Why wouldn't I? In your timeline, in the last few months you remember, I had ages to get used to Nick-who-is-now-Dick never being a jerk and you being a mom-to-be. Here, I've had about fourteen hours. Several of which, I might add, I was unconscious on a coroner's slab!"

  "But what does that have to do with-"

  "I'm used to being number one in your life, okay?"

  "But-"

  "Listen: in the old timeline, the one you can't remember, bad things happened to Nick-"

  "Dick. "

  "No, he was Nick then. And bad things happened to him, things that were my fault. And it changed him, made him a different man than the one you repeatedly knocked boots with in disgusting and fertile ways. And so, in that other timeline where you knew what birth control pills were, he made you choose: him, or me. You chose me. That's the past I remember. In my head, that's how things are.

  "Except they aren't! And I'm having a tough time handling it, okay? It's shitty and it's selfish, and it's also the truth, right? I liked being first with you. I liked that you picked me over him. Lame, right? Right. "

  "You're not actually letting me answer any of your questions," she tried.

  "But that didn't happen here. You've got N/Dick here, and he has you, and when you have a baby it'll be all 'baby makes three' and you'll love it more than me. "

  "That's idiotic. "

  "Nuh-uh! It's a biological imperative. It's gonna happen. You won't have any choice. You'll have to love it. And feed and house it, and open a college fund for it, and take tons of pictures of it to bore other people with, and put it on the phone before it can even talk, which we'll all hate but pretend we don't . . . it's all this huge biological rule you'll have to follow. "

  Jessica's mouth twitched. "I meant, it's idiotic to be jealous of a baby who isn't even here yet. "

  "Think I don't know? It's also lame and beneath me. " I paused and thought that over for a second. "Okay, not much is beneath me, come to think of it, so that last bit might not be true. But all the rest is. Look, like I said, I know it's selfish. But I can't help it. I don't like sharing you. Why am I obsessing about this when I have to save Marc and the future and also beat up my sister and remember the Ant is dead and get the other Antonia and get the book back?" I wondered aloud. Even for me, this was scattered. "Ugh, I hate everything tonight. "

  "Betsy . . . " Jessica seemed startled, almost flabbergasted. "I could have twins in here-"

  "Don't you threaten me!"

  Her eyes actually watered with the effort to not laugh in my face. "Triplets, even. Think of it. "

  "You might," I said, stealing another glance at The Belly That Ate the World. "You're pretty gigantic. "

  "And sure, I'll love him or her or them . . . "

  "Barf. "

  ". . . but I wouldn't love you less, dumb shit. You love BabyJon, I think, but it doesn't mean you love me less, right?"

  I was weakening. "You leave the PoopMeister out of this. "

  "My heart is infinite. That means-"

  "I know what it means, you whore. "

  "I'm gonna repeat, because I know all about your attention span and short-term memory: I won't love you less. Regardless. "

  "Well, it's about damn time! Thank you for finally putting my terrible hideous fears to rest. Was that so hard, reassuring me? Don't you get it?" I cried. "I'm the victim here! Everything's different but I'm the only one who knows it! I'd think you'd be a lot more understanding, given the situation. "

  The corner of her mouth twitched again. Her eyes, tilted at the ends like a cat's-she had beautiful eyes-narrowed, and then she gurgled laughter. She laughed so hard and so long, she had to lean on me to keep from falling down.

  I didn't mind.

  "Some things," she finally gasped, "never ever change. Including you, Bets, you selfish turd. I'm glad you didn't die again. Or stay dead. "

  "Well. " I was mollified, but had no idea why. Maybe because she was leaning on me literally and figuratively? Or maybe because it was nice to have her to myself, even if it was only for five minutes. "I'm glad, too. So what are the odds of you having a litter?"

  "Shut up," my best friend said, kindly enough. CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

 

  "Okay, come on. I gotta hit the closet. " I slowed my usual galloping pace while Jessica gasped and labored up the stairs. Being pregnant in a mansion this size must be a real bitch. All our staircases looked like something out of Gone With the Wind. "My clothes closet, not the water closet, which I have clarified because in this timeline you've become obsessed with going to the bathroom. "

  "Shut. The fuck. Up," she gasped.

  "Hey, I can do a Rhett. Thinking about these stairs reminded me. I can scoop you up and sweep you up the stairs, except without a romantic lesbian vibe. "

  "Eat shit. And. Die. "

  "It'll be quicker. Probably. Even with my superior vampire strength, I'm not sure I could heft your bulk up these stairs. "

  "Touch me. And. Die. "

  Finally, she made it, and I followed her down the hall to my room. "At least we've gotten that out of the way. "

  "What out of the way?"

  "You having the nerve to fall in love and get pregnant in an alternate timeline. I'm glad I've forgiven you; now I can concentrate on saving the world and, also, Marc. "

  "Jesus God," my friend muttered. I gently shoved her into a sitting position on my bed and darted into my closet. I couldn't save the future and also Marc and maybe beat up the Antichrist unless I had the right footgear. Sure, it sounded lame, but if I felt sexy and confident I could get more done. And these shoes made me feel sexy and confident. They were my version of a 1980s power tie, except not stupid. Case closed.

  Except.

  Um.

  Sexy . . . and . . . confident . . . except . . . what?

  "Wh-where . . . ?"

  Jessica had rolled off my bed, stretched up on her toes, stepped closer and peeked over my shoulder. "What's wrong?"

  "There's . . . there are shoes that should be in here that are not in here. And there are shoes in here that should not, should not, should not, should not be in here!" I actually had to fight down the urge to throw up in my mouth.

  There were over a dozen shoes missing, and my closet was a third full with . . . ugh . . . I could hardly . . . it was impossible and yet the grisly evidence was all over my closet. "What are all these velvet clogs doing in there?"

  "Well. They're . . . you know. " Jessica looked puzzled and alarmed. She covered her belly with both hands this time. Again, I was certain she had no knowledge of it. "They've been in for the last year. You-the you who was here a couple of days ago-you had just bought that navy blue pair, over there. "

  "But-" In this timeline I kept my good taste up my ass? Both Antonias were still dead but I now collected clogs? "But I hate clogs!"

  "Since when?"

  "Since always! And where are all the Christian Louboutins? I need my honeymoon Louboutins, my red Pavleta flats, I need them, where are they, I need them!"

  "Your what?" Jessica, who had never feared me, ever, was backed all the way into the far corner.

  "Pavletas, my Pavleta Louboutins, the Christian Louboutins, there should be twelve pairs of goddamned Christian Louboutins in here and they're gone and I really need the ones I got on my honeymoon; where are my Christian Louboutins!"

  "Who," Jessica asked, frowning so hard her forehead laddered into dark wrinkles, "is Christian Louboutin?"

  My screams brought Marc and Sinclair on the run. CHAPTER THIRTY

 

  The doorway actually splintered . . . Sinclair had been in a hurry. He didn't pause for a dramatic kick, he didn't sock his shoulder
against it like they sometimes do in movies, he just crashed through it. You know those cartoons where the character runs through the door, and the door splinters into the shape of his silhouette? Like that.

  He and Marc found me lying in the closet with Jessica rubbing my wrists like Doc Olson in an episode of Little House on the Prairie. "Ma Has a Heart Attack," maybe. Or "Laura Has PMS. "

  "I can't take it, I can't, I absolutely can't take anything else, it's too much," I gasped. "Tilt! Overload. "

  "You better take a breath," Jessica warned.

  "Why? What possible good would that do except make me dizzier?"

  "Point," she admitted. "Sorry. I forgot for a second. "

  "Sinclair loves me here. " I was staring at the (water-stained) ceiling. "Sinclair loves me in this timeline and in the old one, and he loves me here and we're still in love here because he loves me here, so everything else can get worked out because he loves me, so it's okay, it's okay, don't be scared, it's all fine. "

  "Thaaaat whole thing?" Jessica worried. "That was all out loud, Bets. "

  "Who is it? Is it the Antichrist?" My husband was looking everywhere, all white around the eyes like a horse about to bolt, or stomp. "If she dared touch you again, I will-"

  "What the hell!" Nick shouted, looking all 1970's cop, with his gun drawn and standing in the (battered) doorway. "Jess, get away from her! Are you okay? Why are you both in the closet?"

  "Get away from her?" Freshly outraged, I sat up. "That's a nice way to talk to your landlady. Or the woman having sex with your landlord. Which is it in this timeline? Ooooh, I hate this timeline. " I laid down again, moaning.

  "It's, um, she's okay. " Jessica coughed. "Relatively speaking. "

  "What happened?"

  "What's wrong?"

  "Bets, I'm not going to try to take your vitals this time," Marc said, pushing past Nick and kneeling beside me. I was instantly comforted by his cool-yet-warm bedside-y manner. "You can see me all right, yes, honeybunch? You don't feel sick? Or light-headed? Or deader than usual?"

  "No, but don't call me honeybunch. "

  Feeling my neck, he laughed. I reached up and snatched his hand; we both pretended he didn't flinch back. Guess I'd moved quicker than I'd meant to. It always startled the hell out of people.

  I had no choice, I had to confide in him. Call it a cliche, but only a gay man could understand my pain and, possibly, Beverly Feldman. "Marc, there's no Christian Louboutin here. He doesn't exist here!"

  Marc winced and tried to loosen my grip. "Ow, ow, ow! Um, I think-yeah, you might have broken at least two of my-who's Christian Loobuhtohn?"

  "Loo-boo-TAHN. Sorry. " I loosened my grip but couldn't bear to let go. "He's just the . . . just the most brilliant shoe designer . . . he's a genius. Was a genius. Is he dead? Did he never get born? Poor Monsieur Louboutin!"

  "You're carrying on," Nick observed, still watching the corners of the room in case a boogeyman leaped at us, "like he was a family member. "

  "I wish. I would have loved it if he were my older brother-he's in his forties now, so he'd be my much older brother. And he was born in France, right? And he'd sneak out of school-starting in seventh grade!-to watch the Paris showgirls, and he loved their high heels. Okay, that makes him sound like a little perv, but he's an artist, dammit. So he dropped out of school to be a shoe designer and he thought up the red sole. "

  "What's a red soul?" Dickie-Nickie asked.

  "Sole. He does-did?-a signature red shoe bottom, which was a great idea, and when I left my timeline he had paperwork into the US Trademark Office so he could trademark the red soles. Killer, right?"

  The tapered heel, slick colors, and splashy-yet-subtle red sole were fabbo enough, but last month I'd been able to buy his new ones . . . zipper heels! Black stiletto pump, red sole, zippers bisecting the heel, complete with tiny silver pull tab. God, why hast thou forsaken me?

  "If this was anybody else," Marc was saying, "I'd recommend a transfusion and iron tablets. You don't fool me, blondie, I know you're light-headed. "

  Of course I was. "You guys! He almost singlehandedly brought stilettos back into fashion in the 1990s. He designed the shoes I wore on my honeymoon when I almost got killed. And he doesn't exist here. " I started to cry. This alarmed everyone. Which, lamely, I found comforting.

  "They were red flats and they were so beautiful because they looked great but also I could run in them and they meant a lot because I got them on my honeymoon, which I didn't think I'd have but I did finally after stupid Sinclair finally agreed to really get married. " I wept harder.

  "You can't remember to swing by the store and get milk," Marc said, "but you know some shoe guy's entire biography?"

  "Okay, saving you just dropped off my to-do list. " I sniffled and sat up. "Dammit. Crying's not going to bring him back. It's not gonna fill my closet up with shoes that don't blow. Garrett's alive but there are no Christian Louboutins? It's like Sophie's Choice. "

  Marc patted my hand. "That's the spirit. " CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

  "Do not think for a moment I am heedless to your pain," Sinclair said as we were all heading down the stairs. I braced myself because that was usually man-speak for "I'm about to say something that will annoy the shit out of you. " "But where is the vampire?"

  "The Marc Thing," I said, and Jessica nodded.

  "Yeah, it's weird but it fits. And I can actually hear the capital letters. "

  "What can I say?" Marc said. He looked uncomfortable yet intrigued. "I die and become a badass. "

  Uh. Not exactly. You did because I either turned you or didn't save you. And then I rewarded your years of friendship with decades of torture, and then wouldn't put you out of your misery. I just let you roam around my Shitty Future Winter compound, scaring the hell out of people while I raise zombies and wear gray dresses. Gray dresses! Jesus wept.

  (Wait, should I have written that in the future tense? Was it even the future tense? Present tense, I think. Maybe I should have written in past tense, since I was thinking about things that I had done, which I will have done. Dammit!)

  None of that was out loud . . . I'm not quite as dumb as people sometimes thought. Probably. Maybe.

  "He's still in the basement . . . I checked on him right when you guys pulled in. "

  "Whoa, wait. " I stopped, and Marc plowed into me; I had to clutch at the banister so I wouldn't pitch headfirst down the stairs. "Don't get me wrong, you guys, I'm glad you came to get me, but you left a pregnant woman with no superpowers to guard the Marc Thing?"

  "And Garrett. "

  I didn't say anything. I assumed Garrett was on guard duty in the basement while we were having this uncomfortable conversation in the middle of the stairs. But he was a coward, and flighty. At least, in my timeline he had been. What had he said earlier? His lover was dead, so there wasn't anything to be afraid of anymore. Sure. Except maybe there was. In my timeline, I hadn't been able to trust him. But I had no idea if that was true in this one.

  He might not be in the basement. He might be curled up in a corner, shivering. He might be halfway to Hollywood . . . he'd been an actor in life . . . cast in Gone With the Wind! How cool, right? But died before he could show up for filming, which was a huuuuge blow to me, since that was one of my favorite books and movies of all time.

  That was the thing about crazy chickenshits. They were unpredictable. Except when they weren't. Argh, I was getting a headache.

  "So that was the plan? Garrett and Jessica?" I'm not judging Garrett. (I'm not! Truly. So don't judge me. ) If I'd been through what he had, I'd be a shivering emotional wreck who fled from confrontation, too. It wasn't about judgment, it was about practicality.

  Speaking of practicality, my conscience piped up, you weren't here. You let your dumb ass get yanked into hell by the Antichrist, which, since she's the ANTICHRIST, you should have anticipated. They did the best they could-Sinclair had no way of knowing how mu
ch manpower he would need, and since his first priority was you, and not Jessica's safety, he erred on the side of caution. So enough with the Monday-morning quarterbacking, you useless cow.

  God! My inner voices were so bitchy. If someone outside my head talked to me like that, I'd string them up by their appendix.

  "Our options were limited. Your mother was out of town," Tina said dryly. Hmmm, she must be more rattled than she let on. She usually didn't say shit . . . certainly when she was sarcastic there was almost always an undercurrent of respect and affection. Not this dry, clipped, irritated tone. "And when I looked in the Yellow Pages for ancient-vampire babysitters, the only listing was closed for the weekend. "

  "Would that be an ancient vampire who is also a babysitter?" Marc wondered, and Nick and Jessica both laughed. "Or is that, in fact, a babysitter for an ancient vampire?"

  "Hilarious. " Hmm. Pissier than ever. I resisted the urge to shout something lame like, How dare you? or You're forgetting your place, Tina, even though she'd be the first to agree with me. The last thing I ever, ever wanted to do was buy into this whole kiss-the-vamp-queen's-ass-every-five-minutes thing. That way led to dead friends and gray dresses.

  "My mom . . . thank goodness I've got one in this timeline. Is she still watching BabyJon for us?"

  Sinclair nodded.

  "Maybe I should check on her. "

  "Do you think Dr. Taylor is in danger?"

  Okay, I'm going to pause a minute and say I loved that my mom-a prof at the U of M-kept her married name. As long as the Ant lived (and after), that drove her nuts. Meanwhile, my mom was all, "You're welcome to my husband, but my name is mine. I've been a Taylor far longer than a Frend-sunverm" (my mom was German/Dutch).

  "I don't know," I admitted. "But I'm wondering if Laura would go there . . . She knows where my mom lives. And she's keen on mastering her from-hell amazing teleportation trick. Plus, BabyJon is her half brother, too. You know she's gotten into her head that all vampires are soul-sucking, evil denizens of the undead. Sometimes that prejudice gets the best of her. "

  "Speaking of prejudice," Marc said, " 'shut up, you lesbian slut?' Was that homophobia rearing its ugly head?"

 
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